E. C. Lewy and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
The famous fourth horn solo was written for the natural horn.
This article is based on materials published in The Horn Call Annual 8 (1996).
Eduard Constantin Lewy (1796-1846) was the eldest member of a family of distinguished valved hornists. He was born in Saint-Avoid (Moselle), the first son of musician Elie Lewy [Fetis, vol. 5, 294]. As he showed considerable musical talent, at the age of fourteen he was accepted into the horn class of Heinrich Domnich (1767-1844) at the Paris Conservatory. Two years later E. C. Lewy joined the French army as a member of the music corps of the Old Guard, and served until after the battle of Waterloo [Toeplitz, 75]. After several years as a touring musician based in Switzerland, E. C. Lewy was called to Vienna in 1822 by composer and conductor Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1849) to serve as solo horn at the Kärntnertor Theater, and went on to a have a distinguished career in Vienna. In 1834 he was appointed professor at the Conservatorium and in 1835 he became principal horn of the orchestra of the Imperial Hofkapelle [Fetis, ibid]. E. C. Lewy had three musically talented children with whom he toured and performed extensively. His son Richard Lewy (1827-1883) and his brother J. R. Lewy (1802-1881) were both very active early performers on the valved horn.
The first important musical work with which the name of E. C. Lewy is associated with is Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Long-held tradition has it that E. C. Lewy performed the fourth horn solo on the first performance of this work in 1824 on the valved horn. Is this a myth? The famous solo passage from movement III for the fourth horn in E-flat is as follows.
Beethoven, Symphony No. 9, mvt. III, mm. 83-99.
The clearest nineteenth-century source to state this tradition is the Leipzig pianist, teacher, and writer Richard Hofmann (1844-1918) in his Praktische Instrumentationslehre [Practical Instrumentation] of 1893. Of this solo Hofmann wrote,
Until recently it was understood that Beethoven had only made use of wald-horns [natural horns]--(without ventils [valves]); but this cannot have been the case, for we find (1) the low G (not playable on the wald-horn); (2) Beethoven never used long successions of tones in a key with many sharps or flats as the signature. Oral tradition has it that at the time of Beethoven, Levi a fourth-horn player in Vienna possessed a recently discovered ventil-horn; on the ground of this discovery it was imagined that all horn passages could be played with equal quality of tone. Probably for this reason Beethoven (who could scarcely have heard it himself in his greater and later works) wrote the difficult passage for the 4th horn in E-flat. The whole part lies badly for the player, and in view of the tone there seems no doubt that the second half of the solo is better on an E-horn.
Hofmann concluded by showing how the solo could be divided between two players, the first seven bars being performed as written and the conclusion performed on the E crook. Hofmann's ideas concerning the performance of this passage stand in contrast to those of the composer Hector Berlioz, who in his Grand Traite d'Instrumentation et d' Orchestration Modernes of 1843 cites a portion of the same passage as one which "can easily be executed" on the natural horn [Berlioz, 131]. Additionally, it should be noted that Hofmann does not seem to argue that one should take the solo on the valved horn. He was a staunch supporter of the natural horn, and at the conclusion of his discussion of the horn stated that "In the works of the older masters it is especially advisable to use natural horns: today [1893!] the need of them is growing more and more obvious. Yet it could be remedied by concert and opera directors at a very small cost" [Hofmann, 15].
In looking at the question of E. C. Lewy and this symphony of Beethoven there are several separate issues to consider. Is the part playable on the natural horn? Did Lewy play it? Was it written for him specifically?
There is nothing in this solo which exceeds the technical demands which could be reasonably requested of a skilled performer of the natural horn. For comparison, the difficult written A-flat major scale is given in several exercises in the Domnich Méthode, and the low written G1 is seen in several other period works, including Beethoven's own Horn Sonata, Op. 17, written early in his career for the virtuoso Punto. While not a true harmonic available on the horn, it was a "factitious" tone certainly well known among hornists and possessed a clear tonal color. While one could perhaps argue that the solo might sound better on the valved horn, the fact is that this is idiomatic, if virtuostic, low horn writing for the natural horn and well within the bounds of the technique of a conservatory-trained natural hornist such as E. C. Lewy.
In looking at the possibility of E. C. Lewy being the first performer, one must first ask if he was a low horn player. From the positions he held in Vienna one might conclude that he was a high horn player, being described as solo horn at the Kärntnertor Theater and principal horn of the orchestra of the Imperial Hofkapelle [Fetis, ibid]. This may not be the case. Many of the great horn soloists, such as Punto, were low horn players. It is also known that E. C. Lewy performed the Weber Concertino in Vienna in 1824 [Pizka, 276], which is written in a very idiomatic style for performance by a virtuoso low horn player of the period. It seems probable that E. C. Lewy was primarily a low horn player (although he undoubtedly performed high horn parts as well and possessed a very wide range), and as a part of his busy career in Vienna well could have performed the fourth part on the Beethoven premiere.
It is not, however, known if he in fact did perform on this concert. A special orchestra was formed for the occasion, but not only are the names of nearly all of the performers lost to history, even the exact composition of the orchestra is unknown [Blandford, part 2, 127]. The premiere occurred on May 7, 1824 at the Kärntnertor Theater, and a much later source states that Conradin Kreutzer "presided at the pianoforte" [ibid]. That the concert was held at the theater which employed E. C. Lewy and that the individual responsible for bringing him to Vienna was also involved makes the tradition seem more possible, but that he actually performed on this concert is fundamentally an oral tradition which can not be today proved or disproved.
Finally we ask if the part could have been written specifically for E. C. Lewy. This again is only speculation. While the solo was clearly written to require virtuoso technique from the fourth hornist, it does not necessarily follow that Beethoven wrote the part for any specific virtuoso performer. As W. F. H. Blandford concluded in his detailed study of this topic, the notion that this part was written specifically for E. C. Lewy "involves the supposition that Beethoven, in poor health, practically stone-deaf, full of worries, financial, legal, and otherwise, for some years previously out of touch with orchestras and orchestral players other than his personal friends, should have so far interested himself in a new-comer to Vienna, and a talent that was probably out of his power to appreciate, as to write a special part for him" [ibid, 128]
It would also be helpful with regard to the possibility of Beethoven's Choral Symphony having been performed on the valved horn in its premier to know exactly what year E. C. Lewy began to perform on the new instrument. Clearly the Lewy brothers were among the first artists to perform regularly on the valved horn, performing joint recitals utilizing the instrument by 1826 [Tarr, part 2, 199]. There is no way to say if they utilized the valved horn in 1824, however, and the use of this instrument has been shown unnecessary in terms of the technical requirements of the solo.
The invention of the valve in 1814 however marked the beginning of a revolution in horn technique. While some composers would quickly champion the new instrument, the fourth horn solo in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is playable on the natural horn and was certainly written for this instrument.
L. van. Beethoven, Neunte Symphonie, Corno IV (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1966).
Hector Berlioz, A Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration (London: Novello, n.d.), trans. Mary Cowden Clarke.
W. F. H. Blandford, "Studies on the Horn. III. The Fourth Horn in the 'Choral Symphony,'" part 1, The Musical Times 66 (January 1, 1925) 31; part 2, The Musical Times 66 (February 1, 1925) 127.
F. J. Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, 2nd ed. (Paris: 1874; reprint Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1963).
Richard Hofmann, Practical Instrumentation, trans. Robin H. Legge (London: Augener, 1893), vol. 4, 7, 15.
Edward H. Tarr, "The Romantic Trumpet," part 2, The Historic Brass Society Journal 6 (1994), 110-215.
Uri Toeplitz, "The Two Brothers Lewy," The Horn Call 11, no. 1 (October, 1980), 75-76.
Since the completion of this article two important new sources have also been published which detail the work and its reception:
Theodore Albrecht, "Elias (Eduard Constantin) Lewy and the First Performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony," The Horn Call 29, no. 3 (May, 1999), 27-33, 85-94.
David Benjamin Lewy, Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony (New York: Schirmer, 1995).
Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.